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By Dr. Chris Williamson
I did another interview today with a national research organization about multicultural church ministry and it sparked these thoughts:
The first church, which was predominantly Hebrew, left Paul to do cross-cultural ministry virtually by himself. Paul was uniquely called “the apostle to the Gentiles.” The church also did very little to support him financially or stand with him when things got hard from Jewish resistors. The church looked to appease the Jews who were hostile to the gospel instead of rebuking and challenging them the way Jesus did. The church leaders expected Paul to pacify the Jews who still held onto the law, and when he followed their instructions, it didn’t work. See Acts 21:15-36. The crowd didn’t go nuts when Paul talked about Jesus. On the contrary, they became a murderous mob when he mentioned “race.” See Acts 22:21-22.
Not much has changed today. Too many in the church are content to watch the few do this work of multiracial church ministry. They “agree” in principle but will hardly mention “race” for fear of seeing mobs rise up in the pews. They will not make significant structural changes in their own churches or invest financially in others who are doing this work. Neither do they rebuke their own racist resistors because they are big donors or because the sin of racism is minimized, excused, or denied as being real. The majority usually leaves it to minorities (like me) to expose, confront, and educate on this issue. And when the resistors rise up to stone us, hardly anyone steps in to stop the stoning. Even less will stand and get stoned alongside of us, but like Paul we get back up and keep on going because the gospel of the kingdom compels us.
But what if the church (then and now) truly believed in the radical and racial aspects of the commission Jesus gave to make disciples of all nations, i.e., all ethnicities? What if the church stopped erecting walls of division that Jesus knocked down with His cross? What if the church stopped relying so heavily on the political realm for societal change and decided to turn cities upside down with an unbiased preaching and application of the gospel? What if the church talked about racial justice and not just racial reconciliation? What if the church talked about empowerment and not just diversity? What if the church preached against policies that reinforce institutional racism and not just talk about becoming friends with someone of another race? What if the “evangelical church” became more concerned with being kingdom witnesses than with maintaining western whiteness?
Things would be much better, but as it stands things won’t change until the church changes, and the bulk of this change starts with the leadership.